October 4, 2013 — St. Francis Mission, a ministry of the Jesuits among the 20,000 Lakota (Sioux) people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, opened the Sapa Un Academy this September with an inaugural class of 13 third grade students. At-risk kids in South Dakota will benefit from this model of schooling, according to Jesuit Father John Hatcher, president of St. Francis Mission.
St. Francis, where the school is located, is a small town on the Rosebud Reservation, and officials say many young people in this rural area are not getting a good education, in part because many students don’t attend school regularly. “The educational systems here leave a lot to be desired and there’s a huge drop-out rate with kids, especially when they enter high school,” said Fr. Hatcher.
This is where the Sapa Un Academy, based on the Nativity Miguel education model, comes in. The Jesuit-developed model focuses on at-risk children, aiming to turn them into students who are able to graduate from colleges and universities. The model features extended academic hours, focused studies, close student-teacher contact, and challenging subject matter in order to prepare students for post-high school studies, either in college or trade schools.
“Experience shows from studies of these educational models that children after graduating from post-secondary programs return to change their communities for the better,” said Fr. Hatcher. “I expect that children of Rosebud will return to the reservation as well-integrated professionals who want to return to their people some of the blessings they have enjoyed. They will come back here as entrepreneurs, engineers, teachers, artists, health care professionals, counselors and much more — all of them role models for the next generation.”
While the academy is opening to third grade students in 2013, the school plans to expand enrollment by adding a grade every school year. The school will also offer programming during summer months to keep its students caught up and engaged.
“I think from the very beginning part of the culture of the classroom is to say we’re doing this to figure out how to help people here have a better life in the future,” said Fr. Hatcher.